No Matter What Happens in the Israeli Election, There Is No Palestinian State to Build
Some observers of the upcoming Israeli election see the choice on Tuesday as a referendum not just on incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also on Israel’s legitimacy as a peace partner.
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen expressed this when he wrote, “The drift under Netanyahu toward one state in all but name between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, with millions of disenfranchised Palestinians, is relentless.”
In other words, the reelection of Netanyahu will be the end of the two-state solution.
Cohen, like many others, conflates Palestinian statehood with Israeli-Palestinian peace. But this wasn’t the original conception.
At no point in the interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that was signed in September 1995 does it mention that the goal of the agreement was Palestinian statehood. And in his final speech before the Knesset a week later, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said that his goal for the Palestinians was “an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority.”
In subsequent years, the idea that a Palestinian state was essential to peace gained currency, and Netanyahu himself gave qualified support to the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state in a 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University.
However, there are numerous problems with Palestinian statehood under the current Palestinian leadership and the unrelenting terror and incitement that we’ve witnessed for years.
For one thing, there’s the cautionary tale of the 2005 Gaza disengagement. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is the entity to which Israel would cede authority in any future deal. But a year and a half after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas launched a coup and expelled Fatah — the main constituent party of the PA — from Gaza, and proceeded to conduct an arms and terror buildup that has led to three full-blown wars with Israel during the subsequent 13-plus years.
In the first major test of its ability to provide security and peaceful co-existence, the PA failed miserably.
What would happen if Israel similarly withdrew from the West Bank? In the Bar Ilan speech, Netanyahu said that a future Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized because “we don’t want Kassam rockets on Petah Tikva, Grad rockets on Tel Aviv, or missiles on Ben-Gurion Airport.”‘
More importantly, there’s also the question of the Palestinian commitment to the two-state solution. During the decade from 1999 to 2009, the Palestinians were offered statehood at least twice, and both times refused it.
In 2000, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a peace deal to PA President Yasser Arafat at Camp David. Arafat rejected the deal, and two months later launched the so-called al-Aqsa Intifada.
In 2015, current PA President Mahmoud Abbas admitted on Israeli television that he rejected an offer from then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 without even proposing a serious counter-offer.
And why didn’t either PA leader accept the deals they were offered?
We may not know for certain, but one-time Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told an Al Jazeera interviewer in 2009 that Arafat refused because accepting a compromise would make him a “traitor.” Similarly, Erekat related that that Abbas said, “I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine — the June 4, 1967 borders — without detracting a single inch, and without detracting a single stone from Jerusalem, or from the holy Christian and Muslim places.”
It’s incredible that the two leaders of the Palestinian liberation movement refused the statehood they claim to be striving for. But the question is how Israel can want Palestinian statehood more than the Palestinians.
And even if the Gantz-Lapid coalition wins Tuesday’s elections, it isn’t at all clear that there’s a path to Palestinian statehood. In a just-published interview, Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White ticket, told Bret Stephens of The New York Times, “Eventually, Palestinians should have some kind of independency.”
Moshe Ya’alon, who is part of the Blue and White alignment, also made it clear that for there to be peace, the Palestinians must change and stop teaching their children to hate, and accept Israel’s right to a state in the Middle East. Yet judging by their actions, the PA leadership — and possibly the Palestinian people — don’t accept this.
The positions stated by Gantz and Ya’alon show that their policies toward peace with the Palestinians are pretty close to Netanyahu’s. Rather than being a far-right position, skepticism toward a Palestinian state in the near-term is pretty mainstream in Israel.
It’s also a reminder that the failure to achieve a peaceful two-state solution so far is not primarily Israel’s responsibility, but that of the Palestinian leadership. Until the Palestinian attitude towards Jewish statehood changes, there will never be peace.
David Gerstman is currently senior editor of The Tower, the news blog of The Israel Project.